This past Sunday, the wife and I enjoyed the day off by taking a nice long walk. We headed up towards Allegheny Cemetery, with a stop in at Gus’s of course, and then down to the Strip District to the Mecca of all that is good about cheese, Penn Mac’s dairy section.
However, on Smallman street, along that sparsely populated stretch where no one is certain where Lawrenceville begins and the Strip ends, we came upon a crudely painted sign that caught our attention.
So we ventured into the dimly lit, old Hausler Roofing Company workshop at 3212A Smallman Street. Sure enough, among the copper pots and wooden barrels, we found a man and his dog, selling rum.
The dog was a super-friendly Golden Retriever named “Crosby”, who greeted us eagerly, and formed a fast friendship with my wife from behind the newly constructed bar top. Crosby’s Human was a man named Tim Russell. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Tim is a Bloomfield local and publisher of Craft Pittsburgh Quarterly, a popular local magazine for craft beers in and around the Pittsburgh area, and he’s now throwing his hat into the specialty distilling business.
Tim recently opened up “Maggie’s Farm” rum craft distillery to the public back in November on Black Friday, and is still in the transition stages of turning the industrial site into a cocktail bar and retail outlet. He makes all the rum in a large, Spanish-made copper still which sits in clear view behind the bar. In fact, the distillery is so new that the “Grand Opening” of the cocktail bar isn’t until January 11th, and their hours are spotty: make sure you hit their Facebook page for their hours before you head out. Currently, all Tim has for sale are the bottles from the first few batches of his unaged, white rum, although he does plan to add darker and longer aged rums and brandies to the list as his business grows. He also takes credit cards, so he’s got that going for him.
Now, it would be irresponsible of me to tell you about a new drink spot in town without doing my due diligence and purchasing a bottle for ‘testing purposes’. Tim currently charges $28 a bottle for his handmade spirits. His bottles are emblazoned with the Hunter S. Thompson quote, “I will not give you the best hours of my day and let you use my blood to grease the wheels and cogs of a hundred banking machines.” Tim also stresses his dedication to small business and hand made, specialty liquor on the back label…” My goal has always been to found an independent distillery, making a living against the grain by bringing alternative spirits to a market dominated by mass-production and marketing hype.”
Maggie’s Farm rum is made from pure Turbinado sugar. This white rum is unlike many other clear rums I have tried in the past. Rum generally has a pronounced, sweet and earthy aroma, yet this rum has a clean aroma, but smells strongly of alcohol and hardly any hint of molasses. The flavor is incredibly subtle, more like a vodka than a rum, but with a sweeter finish than most vodkas. This is probably one of the cleanest, smoothest rums I have ever tasted, especially for a rum with such a potent smell of ethanol coming off of it. It smells deceptively strong, but comes in at a sensible 80 proof, and goes down like water without the brutal sting the smell suggests.
I look forward to seeing what Tim Russell does with longer aging times, darker rums, and the possibly of brandy down the road. It is a little pricey for the 5th, but it goes to support a local business where both manufacture and retail all stay right here in Pittsburgh, so paying a little extra for the handcrafted, hometown touch is worth it to many of us. For a self-titled “Minister of Enlightment”, I expect great things in the future from Mr. Tim Russell.